Axel Schmidt, Argo Group

Axel Schmidt

Growing the Business Profitably

Editors’ Note

Axel Schmidt joined Argo from Aviva where he served as Chief Underwriting Officer for the company’s U.K./Ireland business across personal, commercial, and corporate/specialty lines. Prior to joining Aviva, he spent 20 years at Zurich in their international business where he held a number of senior underwriting and management positions including Deputy Chief Executive Officer/CUO for their corporate business in Europe/U.K. and Underwriting Director for their global corporate business. He also served as a member of Zurich’s Group Underwriting and Group Reinsurance Board. Schmidt graduated from Westphalian Wilhelms University in Munster, Germany with a degree in Law Studies. He also earned a juris doctorate from the State Supreme Court in Dusseldorf, Germany.

When the opportunity presented itself to join Argo, what excited you about it and made you feel it would be the right fit?

Having had 25 years of experience with very large companies, I reached a point where I felt I needed a new challenge in a different environment.

I really wanted to be in an environment where I could deploy my full potential and hopefully add value based on my global experience. I concluded that the best outlets were the medium-size and smaller companies, which tend to be substantially more agile. I had interviewed with quite a few companies, but Argo stuck out early on. I was fascinated by the enthusiasm of the CEO and his vision to lead the company.

My background is in international and specialized business, which some other companies might consider exotic, but this is where we can provide the most value to our clients.

How do you define your role at Argo?

The principle of the chief underwriting officer role is pretty similar everywhere, although I can take advantage of the fact that Argo is more agile and entrepreneurial, and is a much better place to deploy things effectively.

Another thing that intrigues me is that, as Argo has evolved, it has become strong in individual markets, particularly in the U.S. The next logical step is to align it more across all of its businesses, geographies, and products – that’s my primary goal.

We have so much potential. We don’t have to wait for better market conditions. There is so much in our control. There are so many opportunities we can take advantage of.

How critical is the relationship between the Chief Underwriting Officer and the leaders of the different businesses?

A Chief Underwriting Officer should not sit in a tower and impose guidelines on the businesses, and then control – that does not make a company successful. A good CUO needs to be closely engaged and involved with key underwriters – meeting customers – and sense what is going on in the market. Close collaboration with the business leaders and their underwriters is crucial to the success of a CUO.

He or she needs to protect the bottom line, but equally important is helping the business to grow profitably. This is what I enjoy most at Argo.